England hero Southgate’s road to redemption after he was told to quit football

Gareth Southgate can banish 25 years of hurt by leading England to victory over Denmark in Wednesday’s semi-final.

His penalty shootout miss against Germany at the same stage of Euro 96 is seared into the nation’s memory.

But if he can defeat the Danes at Wembley those demons will surely be buried for good.

And millions of fans will be rooting for nice guy Gareth on his road to redemption.

The humble England boss admitted he was “chuffed” after the 4-0 demolition of Ukraine in Rome on Saturday.

It was a typical low-key reaction from a man who also guided his team to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

His success as a player and manager is no surprise to those who have worked with him.

But Gareth, who was born in Watford and grew up in Crawley, West Sussex, could have followed a very different path.

As a youngster his teachers believed he was bright enough to become an accountant.

Gareth Southgate can banish 25 years of hurt by leading England to victory over Denmark

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He also toyed with the idea of a career in journalism, doing work experience at the Croydon Advertiser when he was aged 16.

And one of his former football coaches even suggested he give up the game and become a travel agent.

But thankfully the tourist industry’s loss is England’s gain.

He had first trained as a youngster with Southampton, before being released, at the young age of 13.

After recovering from the heartbreak of rejection he excelled at all sport, including football, athletics and rugby, while a pupil at Hazelwick Comprehensive School in Crawley.

His former PE teacher at Hazelwick, David Palmer, told the Mirror yesterday: “I was very lucky to have worked with him.

“He was a really talented all-round sportsman. He excelled at football and he loved his football but he was also a very good rugby player.

“We went on a tour to France when he was still very young. It was a football and rugby tour and Gareth played for both of those teams and shone amongst older boys.

“He also shone as a person and I do remember conversations with French teachers who picked him out.

“He just went about his business in a proper manner. He always had the right attitude and always had those qualities that we see in him now – he brought them to his sport and to his life in general.”

Mr Palmer, 66, who later became deputy head teacher, added: “Wherever you went with him you could not fail to be proud of the way he went about his business and the way he represented the school. He also stood out through his personality and his determination and his ­confidence, without being arrogant. He was really sharp-witted and he was a leader, he was the team captain, he was well respected and well-liked.

“He had the sporting talent but he also had the personality and qualities to make him successful in ­whatever he was going to do. We see those qualities in his role as England manager, which is often seen as an impossible job, but he appears to be thriving in it.

Southgate with his wife Alison and their children
Southgate with his wife Alison and their children

“I think people are very proud of him and pleased he is the England football manager and very pleased with the job he is doing.” Gareth passed eight O-Levels but left school before starting A-levels when he was offered an apprenticeship by Crystal Palace.

It was his youth team manager Alan Smith who suggested an alternative career after deciding he was too clever to be a footballer.

Smith later recalled: “We had one particular game, which we lost, and I said, ‘Gareth, I think you’re too bright to do this job. I think you have to make a choice. If it was my choice, I think you should become a travel agent’.”

Southgate (back row far left) playing for the Crawley Trades Under-12s team
Southgate (back row far left) playing for the Crawley Trades Under-12s team

But when Smith later became first team boss, he made Gareth his captain.

He went on to win 57 England caps and made more than 500 first team appearances at Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough.

A move into management was inevitable for the player described by ex-England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson as a “thinking man”.

“He wants to resolve problems with talks, more than with shouting. It was easy to speak to him. He was never angry or irritated, he was always very polite,” said the Swede.

He was boss at Middlesbrough for three years and England’s under-21 side, before taking on the senior team in 2016.

Never one for the bright lights, Gareth lives with his wife Alison, daughter Mia, 19, and son Flynn, 15, in a £3.75million 16th century home, which boasts six bedrooms, a wine cellar and a cinema room near Harrogate, North Yorks.

Although he once went to a Sex Pistols concert with former England defender Stuart Pearce, he prefers Smooth Radio.

He met Alison in his early 20s and the couple,who had their first date in a Tesco car park, have been married for 24 years.

In his 2003 autobiography he wrote about the priorities of family life, saying: “Regardless of the result, it is up to me to ensure that no one’s evening is ruined because of things that happened on a football field.”

Southgate and his wife Alison Southgate are seen in the Royal Box at Wimbledon
Southgate and his wife Alison Southgate are seen in the Royal Box at Wimbledon

On the eve of the Euro 2020 tournament, in an open letter to the nation, Gareth said his team will be judged on results.

But he said there was more at stake, adding: “It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever. If we can do that, it will be a summer to be proud of.”

Whatever the result on Wednesday, the country is proud of Gareth Southgate.

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